Typhoon-struck Philippine city begins mass burial
'I hope this is the last time I see something like this,' Mayor Alfred Romualdez says
- Death toll rises to 2,360
- Canada prioritizing immigration applications from Filipinos affected by Haiyan
Workers in the typhoon-shattered city of Tacloban buried 100 of its thousands of dead in a hillside mass burial Thursday as desperately needed aid began to reach some of the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the Philippines disaster.
Dozens more bodies were lined up in bags outside Tacloban City Hall waiting to be taken to burial sites. Six days after Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines, many of the dead were still lying along roads as survivors searched for bodies buried under the rubble.
"It is very hard. It is very difficult," medical examiner Dr. Emmanuel Aranas told CBC's Chris Brown in Tacloban. "They are everywhere, cadavers are everywhere."
Aranas has given up trying to identify people.
"Just like in this place," he said, indicating a building. "I want to tell you again that we are told about more than a hundred [bodies]. But now it is not, it is more than double. But we are not finished yet, there are more inside."
Filipino soldiers on trucks distributed rice and water as chainsaw-wielding teams cut debris from blocked roads. Thousands more swarmed the city's damaged airport, desperate to leave or to get treatment at a makeshift medical centre.
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Authorities say 2,360 people have been confirmed dead in the disaster, but that figure is expected to rise, perhaps significantly, when information is collected from other areas of the disaster zone.
A spokesman for the Philippines civil defence agency, Maj. Reynaldo Balido, confirmed the death toll early Friday. Earlier, a UN spokesperson had said the death toll was 4,460, citing officials in the country.
Early Friday, a note posted at Tacloban city hall said the death toll had risen to 4,000 in that city alone, Reuters reported.
Canada provides support
The Canadian Forces are considering sending a detachment of three to six Griffon helicopters to assist in relief efforts. Officials say teams on the ground in the typhoon-ravaged island of Panay country are assessing the situation and the need for helicopters.
The Canadian effort now is based at the airport in Iloilo, but elements of the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) are preparing to move north to the city of Roxas.
Officials say the helicopters could provide vital mobility in a region where many communities are on isolated, outlying islands.
CBC's David Common said from the capital, Manila, that DART's key skill is its ability to provide vast amounts of drinking water quickly. DART is also able to provide basic medical assistance and engineering support.
The Immigration Department says it will give special consideration to applications from Filipinos who are "significantly
and personally" affected by the typhoon.
In Tacloban's first mass burial, 100 bodies in leaking black bags were lowered into graves without any prayers being said.
John Cajipe, 31, and three teenage boys who work at the local cemetery placed the first body in the grave's right hand corner. Sweat rolled down their faces in the blistering sun as they carried the body.
The second body followed two minutes later, carefully placed alongside the first. And so on, until scores of bodies — all unidentified — filled the grave.
"I hope this is the last time I see something like this," said Mayor Alfred Romualdez. "When I look at this it just reminds me of what has happened from the day the storm hit until today."
Officials said efforts had been made to identify the bodies so families have a chance of finding out what happened to their loved ones in the days and weeks to come. It was not immediately clear whether this included DNA testing.
U.S. aircraft carrier arrives
Meanwhile, the U.S. aircraft carrier George Washington arrived in the Philippine Sea near the Gulf of Leyte Thursday, and will set up a position off the coast of Samar Island to assess the damage and provide medical and water supplies, the 7th Fleet said in a statement.
The carrier and its strike group together bring 21 helicopters to the area, which can help reach the most inaccessible areas.
4 missing Filipino-Montrealers found safe
Four Filipino-Montrealers who were missing for days after Typhoon Haiyan have been found safe, according to their family in Montreal.
Sisters Cristita Magno and Virginia Magno Garcia, along with their husbands Amancio Allana and Valdomar Garcia, had not been heard from since Thursday.
But Larry Allana, the son of Cristita and Amancio, told CBC this morning that both couples had been found safe, saying he heard the news through Facebook on Tuesday.
He said the former mayor of Bungtod was helping with search efforts when he spotted the four Montrealers.
The mayor then flew to a nearby town with a better internet connection, where he posted the news on Facebook.
The couples travelled to the Philippines in September to build a chapel in Bungtod, the village where the sisters were born and where hundreds of the Magno family’s relatives live.
Allana has yet to hear from his parents directly, but he said he spoke with a contact in the Philippines over the phone Wednesday night, who confirmed they were safe.
In addition to the USS George Washington, about a half dozen other U.S. ships — including a destroyer and two huge supply vessels — are already in the area, along with two P-3 aircraft that are being used to survey the damage from the sky so that planners can assess where aid is most needed, the 7th Fleet said.
"We are operating 24/7," said Capt. Cassandra Gesecki, a spokeswoman for the Marines, who have set up an operations hub near Manila's international airport. "We are inundated with flights."
Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian chief who toured Tacloban on Wednesday, said some 11.5 million people have been affected by the typhoon, which includes people who lost their loved ones, were injured, and suffered damage to their homes, business or livelihoods.
"The situation is dismal ... tens of thousands of people are living in the open ... exposed to rain and wind," she told reporters in Manila on Thursday.
Aid has been slow to reach the people displaced by the storm that tore across several islands in eastern Philippines last Friday. Most of the casualties occurred in Leyte province, its capital Tacloban, and Samar island. Many bodies are still lying along the roads in the city and others are buried under debris.
She said the immediate priority for humanitarian agencies over the next few days is to transport and distribute high energy biscuits and other food, tarpaulins, tents, clean drinking water and basic sanitation services.
"I think we are all extremely distressed that this is Day 6 and we have not managed to reach everyone," she said.
The first nighttime flights — of C-130 transport planes — arrived since the typhoon struck, suggesting air control systems are now in place for a 24/7 operation — a prerequisite for the massive relief operation needed.
Tacloban city administrator Tecson Lim said 70 per cent of the city's 220,000 people are in need of emergency assistance, and that only 70 of the city's 2,700 employees have been showing up for work.
He also stuck to an earlier estimate that 10,000 people had died in Tacloban even though President Benigno Aquino III has said the final death toll would be 2,000 to 2,500 in the whole country.
Amos said because of a lack of fuel in Tacloban, the few trucks on the ground are unable to move the aid material from the airport to the city. The weather also remains a challenge, with frequent downpours. The good news is that the debris on the road from the airport to the city has been pushed to one side, she said.
On Wednesday, the UN's World Food Program distributed rice and other items to nearly 50,000 people in the Tacloban area. About nine tonnes of high energy biscuits were also delivered to the city on Wednesday, with another 22 tonnes on the way.
Philippine Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla said it may take six weeks before the first typhoon-hit towns get their power back. He said that in Tacloban, order needed to be restored "because if there's no peace and order, it's hard to reinstall the power posts."
He said army troops had fired shots Wednesday to drive away a group of armed men who approached a power transmission substation in Leyte province. The unidentified men fired back then fled. Nobody was hurt.
With files from CBC News and The Canadian Press